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A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story.

Good autobiographies merely inform, while the best illumine. Elaine Brown's almost tell-all memoir, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story, though tedious at times, comes close to the best.

Brown's account of her rough and rather wretched North Philly childhood shows the mental and emotional toll poverty and racism take in the absence of affirming forces. The story of her life in the Black Panther Party (of which she became chairman in 1974) offers insights into what was so righteous about the party--the community programs, the preachments on the evils of America--and what was so warped about it--the sexism and the panther-on-panther violence. We also see how the panthers were persecuted by the police and the FBI.

All of this is interesting enough, but what truly makes Brown's life a worthwhile read is how it shows the futility of looking for self-worth in people, accomplishments and even movements. For her story is of someone who early on felt like a nobody and used a lot of time and energy striving to feel like a somebody through externals: as a child in appropriating the ways of proper white folks and pursuing the affection of a father who refused to claim her, and as an adult through her progressive consciousness and political power, and in being panther leader Huey P. Newton's "Queen."

Despite all her doings, Brown ended up getting nowhere fast. Toward the close of her narrative she recalls gazing at her child and coming to a painful conclusion: "Watching her now," Brown remembers, "I began to wonder what I represented to her. I began to think of what I really was, without the pseudonyms of revolutionary, black, or woman. I had made myself into this or that, according to the tune and the time. I was terrified by what I was--a nasty nothing. My life had been a charade of imitating other people who, unlike me, were real." --Tonya Bolden

A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story by Elaine Brown; Pantheon, New York, 1993, 452pp, $25
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Bolden, Tonya
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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